Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Physical Activity and Fitness in Schools

During our childhood, a major portion of our time is spent at a wonderful, fun, exciting place...


Ahhhhh, not school! 

Despite all of us at one time or another dreading going to school, it is one of the most influential places we'll ever spend in our lives. 

School is where we spend time learning math, science, English, history, music, and art.  We also spend time developing cognitive, social, emotional, and physical qualities.  We make friends, learn lessons, we have fun, we hate it some days, but overall it is a time to lay down a foundation of development that will serve us as we go along in life.

You can't learn calculus unless you first learn to count.  You can't read Shakesphere, until you first learn the alphabet.  You can't rule the World if you never pass the 1st grade. The time spent in school during your younger years prepares you for the later stages in your life.  You might not have known it then, but all of us can look back now and realize just how important those developmental years were for us today.

But today we are finding ourselves and our youth in a state of concern.  Because we live in the United States, many people feel we are and have the best of everything.  But many would beg to differ.

In the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses how prepared/knowledgeable students are in Science, Math, and Reading from countries all over the world.  Here's how the United States ranked...
  • 31st in Math
  • 17th in Reading
  • 23rd in Science
Here are some other stats
  • Childhood obesity has doubled in children (6-11) and tripled in adolescents (12-18) in the last 30 years
  • More than 1/3 of children and adolescents are overweight or obese
  • Educators are undervalued and underpaid compared to other countries
  • Risk of diabetes, high BP, arthritis, cardiovascular problems, cancers and other disease have all increased substantially in the last 20 years

Said best, “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated,” said by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  So despite the fact we have some of the greatest resources, technologies, and opportunities in the world, we are "losing" out to many other countries in our education, economy, and health. 

We are slowly becoming this


With many states being forced to make multiple educational cuts, Physical Education, Music, and Art are the first ones to receive the brunt of those cuts.

But Why? 

Because they are not part of standardized testing?  Well I'm here to make a stand for Increased Physical Education (PE), Physical Activity (PA), and Fitness in schools. 

Am I biased?

Yes I admit I am, but that doesn't mean there isn't substantial evidence out there promoting the link between exercise and learning.  That doesn't mean I, as well as many others, haven't seen the positive effects of fitness on self-esteem, social abilities, health, body composition, confidence, motor development, opportunities to teach life-long lessons, concentration, and cognitive development.

In no form or fashion am I trying to take away the importance of major classes such as math, science, English, and reading.  This is to help understand the importance physical activity and exercise have on children and how it can help with all aspects of their development.

This is to question the reasoning for PE and PA being cut, and to argue it's importance in a logical manner.  I believe this is a massive mistake, and is contributing to health problems as well as having an effect of cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Physical Education and Fitness: Important?  I Think So!

Unlike any other class, ONLY Physical Education touches and develops all forms of development

Cognitive Development
Emotional Development
Social Development
Physical Development

Let me say this again, No other class in school can say the same.  Only PE works to develop and improve all areas of development in young people, yet it is often just seen for the physical part.  Let's take a look at each

Cognitive - Exercise has been shown to improve a whole mess of things ranging from learning, concentration, memory, understanding, behavior, and grades.  More than that exercise teaches kids motor development and control, spatial awareness, kinesthetic awareness, tactile skills, coordination, visual acuity; all qualities that carry over to the classroom.


     - Middleton and Strick (1994) identified that the part of the brain that processes movement, the cerebellum, is the same part of the brain that processes learning. So when we move we are stimulating the learning part of the brain.

     - Exercise triggers the production chemicals called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factors (BDNF).  BDNF help neurons communicate with each other to exchange and retain information, which leads to higher comprehension, memory, and ability to retrieve information.  In fact Blaydes (2000), found that students who sit for longer than 20 minutes experience a decrease in BDNF.  On the other hand, physical movement, such as stretching every 20 minutes helps to stimulate the BDNF in a child’s brain.

     - Exercise and PA increase blood flow to not only the body, but to the brain.  With increased blood flow brings increased oxygen and nutrients to fuel and stimulate the brain.

     - Exercise can help to reduce stress.  The hormone Cortisol is known as the stress hormone.  When we feel stressed, cortisol is released in our bodies.  Prolonged exposure to cortisol has been linked to decreased judgement, planning, problem solving, and other high-order skill (Jensen, 2000, 2005; Leamnson, 2000).  Exercise helps to control and keep cortisol and stress levels in check.

     - Physical Education and exercise teach kids strategy, thinking outside the box, angles, planning, communication, and kinesthetic learning.  In fact 20% of energy expenditure during exercise is spent on brain activity!  Physical activity is not just exercising our heart and muscles, it plays a huge role in cognitive function.

Social - Physical Education and exercise arguably teaches and develops social skills better than any other class can.  Team work, communication, group cooperation, trust, responsibility, feedback, and accountability are all qualities developed to a higher degree in Physical Education than in other classes.

Physical Education and activity rely on communication and socialization.  So while most other classes require quietness for it's many parts, physical activity and fitness by it's very nature is social and leads to increased interaction between students.  When implemented correctly, it leads to very positive social responses for all students.

Emotional - John Wooden once said, "Sports don't build character, they reveal it".  Physical activity brings to light qualities like sportsmanship, reflection, emotional management, self-control, temperament, and patience.  It truly reveals emotional qualities and gives students a chance to reflect on their actions and emotions. 

It is also one of the greatest teaching opportunities for teachers.  Despite it only being a PE class or recess, many instances will occur where students will have to deal with losing, team work, sportsmanship, and disappointment.  These are wonderful opportunities for educators to teach life-long lessons like hard work, commitment, team work, resilience, and effort.  No other class can truly say the same.

Today, Physical Education classes, as well as physical activity in classrooms, strive to teach students about their emotional state.  How to control their breath, which in return controls emotion, stress, anger, the parasympathetic nervous system, and their state of mind.  There is a connection between physical activity and ones emotional state; learning how to positively use this connection is important for success in and out of the classroom as well as in their future.

Physical - Obviously this is the part most think of when they think PE and PA.  Teaching fundamental movement skills, physical development, motor learning, fitness, health, and nutrition.  Physical activity in schools promotes healthier students, less sickness, improved concentration, and higher academic achievement.  This aids in developing positive life-long feelings about exercise, nutrition, health, and well-being.

PE, PA, and recess all work towards creating healthier students.  Teaching children about proper movement skills, exercise techniques, diverse activities, healthy habits, and quality nutrition all work towards the goals of keeping children:

     - Injury Free
     - Healthy
     - In positive relationships with exercise and fitness that will stay with them for their lifetime
     - Knowledgeable about healthy lifestyles and choices
     - Understanding the importance of well-rounded fitness

Stop the Madness

What hurts is when we see PE programs being cut, recess being cut, music and art (they also provide many great benefits that cannot be duplicated in the core classes) being cut, and stories like this one.

Parents Sue to Stop In Class Yoga

Why are they suing?

Because they feel Yoga is a ritual to worship the devil! 


What's next, banning learning to play the guitar because it's gonna make kids pot smoking hippies?

So despite Yoga giving all of the above mentioned benefits, parents would rather sue than see their kids have a better education in a healthier, more positive environment.

This issue is close to my heart, because in the above mentioned article, my sister Saree and her Girls on Target program were going to lead this Yoga infused learning environment.  Yoga was going to be developed within the curriculum to allow educators a way to teach that promotes learning through physical activity.  (For the record, Saree was a middle school teacher for 6 years and used many of these techniques within her classes with great success)

This format has been used around the country with great success.  Studies have shown this to be a great tool to enhance enjoyment in learning and physical activity - both in and out of the classroom.  Read these related Studies, this Study, this Study, and this Study

Call to Action

So what can you do?

Well for one, if you know of a school district in your area that is cutting PE and restricting daily PA and recess, make a stand.  Contact administration and voice the importance of these classes and of PA in school! 

Be able to logically argue the importance of PE and the positive connections it has with child development.  Use this article as a resource to support the benefits of PE and PA in schools. 

Also go the Girls on Target, and support their mission to implement Yoga as part of in-class curriculum.  Physical activity in the classroom DOES NOT distract or take away from the learning experience.  It enhances learning, and gives students tools to develop soooo many positive qualities and relationships with learning and fitness. 

We need to make certain changes in our educational system and implementing exercise and movement into learning just might be that change.  Start supporting exercise/fitness, and its connection with the brain, as well as its connection with health, wellness, well-being, and nutrition. 

And Oh Yeah, support our educators and teachers.  They have one of the most important and impactful jobs in our country.  Respect what they do, and their ambition to create the best learning environment possible.  It will not surprise me one bit, if 10 years down the road, movement and activity are part of every teachers tool box as a way to increase learning, comprehension, and involvement. 

Spread the word, and as always Go Get 'Em!


Blaydes, J. "Action based learning—Thinking on your feet: 110+ activities that make learning a moving experience." Richardson, TX: Action Based Learning (2000).

Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development


  1. Indeed, the exercise is very important to us and I really help our personality , emotionally and physically.

    Thanks for the info.

    weight lifting items

  2. Thanks Xtinita! Yeah sometimes I think we lose touch with just how important physical activity is for all our areas of development.